Because time isn’t always kind: economic reviews in a world full of waste!
Perhaps my love for THE GEOGRAPHER’S LIBRARY — my favorite novel of 2005 — tainted my expectations for Jon Fasman’s follow-up THE UNPOSSESSED CITY, a literary thriller in which a down-on-his-luck Jim takes a gig in Russia interviewing political prisoners to pay off some gambling debts, much to the chagrin of his fishmonger folks. The trip seems worth it when he falls for the beautiful, Finnish wannabe actress Kaisa, but then the Soviets don’t take kindly to his job, and abduction becomes the name of the game. Fasman is a terrific writer whose lines really sing, but the plot never pushed me to keep going, like I just had to read one more chapter before flicking off the bedside light. It’s the alternating chapters focusing solely on the Russians that did me in, whereas the ones with Jim drew me in. It’s not a sophomore slump, but it’s not out of the stadium, either.
Heard the one about Coca-Cola translating to “bite the wax tadpole” in China? Yeah, not exactly. Amateur logophile David Wilton shoots down many popularly held beliefs involving words and phrases in WORD MYTHS: DEBUNKING LINGUISTIC URBAN LEGENDS. For example: “Crap” does not come from Thomas Crapper, who’s wrongly credited as the inventor of the toilet. “In like Flynn”? Nothing to do with Errol. Nearly every cliché you can think of — “chew the fat,” “throw the baby out with the bathwater” — is discussed, with Wilton dishing about their true origins, with informed research and clear explanations. The illustrations by alt-cartoonist Ivan Brunetti are icing on the cake. (For more current word porn, see Elizabeth Little’s new, fun BITING THE WAX TADPOLE: CONFESSIONS OF A LANGUAGE FANATIC, which goes one further by delving into numerals.)
It’s every parents’ worst nightmare: the disappearance of your child. In Michael Jasper’s fantasy A GATHERING OF DOORWAYS, the situation is more complicated than usual, because 5-year-old Noah has entered into “the Undercity,” a cavernous, underground world whose tunnels he navigates with the aid of a jaguar. Guilt-stricken dad Gil goes on the hunt for him, helping advance the adventure, but the scenes with Noah’s mother threaten to reverse that forward motion, or at least bring it to a halt. Descriptions of the forest ground suddenly opening up into a hole to swallow people are nightmarish, leading characters (and the reader) to princes, dragons and other strangers. The underwhelming novel’s just shy of satisfying, despite an ending that is poignant and real. A better tale of this type lies in John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS.
I’ve never heard of the “hit Cartoon Network show” BAKUGAN, but my 11-year-old informs me it’s “stupid.” Whatevs. The animated series is now a graphic novel in the alliterative BAKUGAN BATTLE BRAWLERS: THE BATTLE BEGINS. It’s short and roughly digest-sized, comprised of stills directly from an episode, which is an approach I always find to be lazy. Then again, this one isn’t directed toward middle-aged men. Its target is little kids — ones not old enough to remember POKÉMON, but they’re apt to get into it, because this is exactly like POKÉMON, in that people fight one another via supernatural creatures with silly names that emerge from tossed balls and cards. —Rod Lott
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